Thursday, June 01, 2006

First There is Life Then Comes The Energy

A couple of my favorite words to use when trying to describe cartoons are “energy” and “life”. I use them all the time in discussions of the main qualities of cartoon work that I like. But I’m not sure if what they mean to me is the same as what others think they mean, so in the spirit of clarity, here is my attempt to explain them. These are my personal interpretations, so they may be different than what someone else means when they use these terms.

When I say that a cartoon is full of “life”, to me, that means that it is engaging and interesting and it gets me emotionally involved. It makes me want to care about what I am watching and it naturally invites me into its world. The opposite is a “lifeless” cartoon which just doesn’t connect and when I am watching it I just can’t get past the fact that I’m watching moving drawings. Now I never said anything about the aesthetic quality of the art or that it was great animation or believable movement or realistic. It just has to "pull" me directly into its world.

My definition of “life” points more to what is happening and how it is happening and not how the cartoons are made. The works of Nick Park from Aardman Animation are a great example of cartoons that are full of life. When you watch a Nick Park cartoon it is impossible not to get fully sucked into that world. Wallace and Gromit cartoons both the shorts and the features are always full or life. They live in an eccentric little world and yet it is impossible to not get lost inside those cartoons. They are full of life. Wallace & Gromit

Now “energy” in a cartoon for me is far more than just “life”. Again I’ll reference Nick Park’s Wallace and Gromit cartoons. Beyond the fact that these engaging cartoons pull you directly into their world with all of its detail and subtle humor, they also absolutely burst with “energy”. It is that almost breath taking way that they can go from the mundane eating of jelly and toast to comically absurd chase sequences. The model train chase in “The Wrong Trousers” is perhaps one of the most high energy sequences ever created in a cartoon and certainly one of the funniest. If you are not acquainted with Nick Park and his work, don’t let another day pass by before you seek out a DVD copy of these amazing cartoons. Once you have studied Wallace and Gromit you will completely understand “life” and “energy” in cartoon making, which has nothing to do with the fact that they are “plasticine” stop frame animation, as we are talking about their content not their production technique. Again it isn’t about 2D or 3D, it is about cartoon making.

The life in a cartoon is that essential spark that connects with the viewer and the energy knocks you out of your chair laughing.


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